From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Eat Dessert First

Everyone whose deeds are more than his wisdom, his wisdom endures. And everyone whose wisdom is more than his deeds, his wisdom does not endure.

The Talmud

My father had his own way of imparting wisdom. He handed down stylish phrases when I least expected it. They burst forth suddenly and always came as a surprise.

One hot July Saturday morning when I was a little girl, my dad asked me to join him for lunch. This particular day, it was just the two of us. My mother, also invited, declined the offer for nobler pursuits: a manicure and wash and set at the beauty parlor, where her standing appointment would never be sacrificed for anything as mundane as lunch.

“It looks like it’s just you and me, Missy,” Dad said with a twinkle in his eye, followed by one of his pat remarks. “So, let’s go and raise some hell.”

The restaurant was bustling with people, providing enough background noise to add an air of merriment to our meal. My dad and I parked ourselves in a booth and were handed menus so large they reached over the top of my head and offered a dizzying array of choices.

Over grilled-cheese sandwiches and french fries for me and a fat hamburger, charcoal-burned and blood-red for him, my father revealed a most alluring confession: “You see that woman over there?” he pointed to a table a few feet away. I surreptitiously snuck a look. “That’s Marion, the gal who had a crush on me all through high school and into my law school years.”

With that came a wink of an eye to Marion, whom I could hear giggling all the way across the room. I, the budding adolescent, sat on the edge of my seat as he regaled me with this top-secret piece of news.

“But,” my father said, moving his head so close it was practically touching mine, “she couldn’t hold a candle to your mother.”

And so began our luncheon rituals, where we broke rules, recounted anecdotes and shared secrets. Months later, I perused the menu at a different restaurant, this time in Manhattan, twenty minutes from our home. On this particular Saturday, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat. My father, realizing my dilemma, summoned the waitress. “Bring us the dessert menu,” he said.

Obligingly, she returned with a small, leather-bound book, edged in gold leaf with a list of desserts that had my mouth watering. Profiteroles, chocolate mousse, chocolate cake and chocolate soufflé were mine for the asking. I felt as though I had entered chocolate heaven.

“But, Daddy, we haven’t even had lunch.”

“Even better,” he winked, that same Marion wink. “When in doubt, eat dessert first!”

“What will Mommy say?”

“It will be our little secret,” he said.

And there we sat on that chilly autumn afternoon in a cozy French restaurant. He, dipping a long silver spoon into a parfait, and I, gorging on layers of chocolate cake oozing raspberry and covered in a white chocolate sauce. I remember wondering if life could get any better than that.

There were to be many more lunches and dinners in our future. I accumulated a wealth of knowledge from our talks, and I was privy to personal insights and private thoughts he loved sharing with only me, mainly because my reactions were always so spontaneous and sincere. I was genuinely interested in everything he had to say, which made me, his audience of one, a perfect dinner companion. Sometimes Mother asked half-teasingly, “Whatever do you two have to talk about?”

My dad also had a reflective side that felt protective and nurturing. He took me seriously, too, by paying credence to my individuality and giving me room for self-expression. As a lawyer, he was accustomed to problem solving. Our meals provided a venue into which I could retreat and unload my worst trepidations or, conversely, share my happiest moments. Without judging, he gently guided me through childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, and served as my one-man support system and guardian of my soul.

Even after I was married and living in Manhattan, Dad and I had a standing weekly dinner date that I came to rely on and treasure. He never once canceled out, despite his busy schedule, teaching me to honor commitment and value the importance of keeping appointments. The only Tuesday we didn’t meet at a restaurant was when I delivered my daughter. That night, Mom, Dad, my husband and I dined together in my hospital room. My father brought the champagne that he had been saving for this occasion.

“Even my new granddaughter can’t get in the way of our Tuesdays.” And there was that wink as we clicked glasses and toasted the birth of Elizabeth.

My father was in his sixties when it abruptly ended. His death brought with it a sense of longing I have never yet been able to relinquish—longing for something that would never be the same again.

Dad died too young and had a lot more tasting left to do, but I revel in the fact that we savored much of life together. We went on for years enjoying each other’s company. After his parting, despite my sadness, I was energized, knowing how lucky I was to have shared the Tuesdays of my life with him and the great life lessons he passed on to me.

I now take my two grandchildren, Andrew and Caroline, out to dinner weekly. They can choose any restaurant they want, as I was privileged to do so many years before them. Recently Andrew sighed, perusing a menu too big for a seven-year-old’s eyes. “I don’t know what I want to eat.”

Caroline chimed in, “I can’t make up my mind, either, Grandma.”

My father’s voice came echoing back. “Then, I guess we’ll have to eat dessert first!” I told them.

And they, sitting back in wide-eyed disbelief, broke out in smiles, and “eating dessert first” was exactly what we did.

Judith Marks-White

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